Washington state’s poet laureate to read in Port Angeles

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — It was a whole year ago that librarian Lorrie Kovell sought out Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken.

Kovell hoped to bring her to Port Angeles for a reading in April, National Poetry Month.

And this Wednesday night, Kovell will get her wish.

Flenniken, the Evergreen State’s poet laureate for 2012-2014, will give a free poetry reading alongside a group of literary luminaries from the North Olympic Peninsula.

The evening’s theme: “Poems evoking a sense of place.”

At 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St., Flenniken will offer poems from Plume, her book of reflections on growing up near — and later working inside — the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington.

Flenniken’s first profession was civil engineering: She worked in waste management and hydrology at Hanford during the early 1980s.

After she got married, Flenniken moved from her hometown of Richland to Seattle, started a family — and discovered another part of herself.

A community education class in poetry writing through the University of Washington put Flenniken on a creative path, a path that has led to winning the Pushcart Prize and other honors, publishing two books and, to her amazement, appointment as poet laureate.

The Washington State Poet Laureate program was established in 2007. Samuel Green was the first to be appointed to the position, which involves readings, classes and travel around the state, all for a $10,000 annual stipend.

The program was suspended in 2009 amid the state’s budget crisis.

Two years later, then-Gov. Christine Gregoire restored it, provided no state funds were used.

In late 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts and the nonprofit Humanities Washington stepped in, and Flenniken was appointed the state’s second poet laureate.

Wherever she goes to read, this poet invites her compatriots to join her.

Poetic Blood Quantum

On Wednesday, Flenniken will appear alongside members of Poetic Blood Quantum, the writing group formerly known as Indian Voices.

The group, which includes members of the Lower Elwha Klallam, Makah, Coeur d’Alene and other Northwest tribes, began at Peninsula College in 2009 with professors Kate Reavey and Alice Derry serving as writing facilitators.

Four years later, “we chose to get a fresh start and a new name,” said Brenda Francis-Thomas, a member of the writing group and the communications manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam.

Reavey, Derry and Charlotte Warren, also well-known poets, will offer responses to the “sense of place” theme, too.

Reavey plans to read a poem about the Dungeness River, which flows near her home on Lost Mountain, while Derry will offer one about the revegetation of the former Lake Aldwell bed.

Warren, in honor of spring, will read two poems about connecting with the natural world: “Stepping Stones,” about freshly picked raspberries, and “Trees,” which starts with the line: “What if I gave away all my books to live with one tree.”

“It’s particularly wonderful,” Derry added, “that [Flenniken] is teaming up with our Indian group and that they, out of their own wishes, wanted to include non-Natives. [There’s] a very wonderful sense of community being developed here.”

Flenniken herself still marvels some at the turns her life has taken.

“I had a hard time finding out what I wanted to do,” she said.

“When my husband met me, I was an engineering student,” and now, 27 years later, “he’s married to a poet.”

Flenniken has discovered the joy of playing with language and loves to show others the way into such pleasure.

Even if you’ve never set foot in a poetry gathering, she added, try it out Wednesday night.

“I was in my 30s when I attended my first poetry reading,” she said. “I can put myself in the civilian’s shoes.”


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 06. 2013 5:27PM
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